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The Hands of Esau by Uri Avnery

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Editor's Note:

Very interesting article by Uri Avnery, an Israeli known
for standing up for Palestinian rights. 

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                Video Clip Of The Week

             Bush Gaff In The Middle East

President Bush had a press conference in the Palestinian 
territories and he dismissed UN resolutions passed in the 
past. This is extremely problematic in the region because 
UN resolutions were the foundation for attacking Iraq. 

View: Bush Gaff In The Middle East 
The Hands of Esau -by Uri Avnery

WHICH OF the two men is the leader of the greatest power 
on earth and which is the boss of a small client state? 

A visitor from another planet, attending the press 
conference in Jerusalem, would find it hard not to answer: 
Olmert is the president of the great power, Bush is his 

Olmert is taller. He talked endlessly, while Bush listened 
patiently. While Olmert anointed Bush with flattery that 
would have made a Byzantine emperor blush, it was quite 
clear that it is Olmert who decides policy, while Bush 
humbly accepts the Israeli diktat. And Bush's flattery of 
Olmert exceeded even Olmert's flattery of Bush. 

Both, we learned, are "courageous". Both are "determined". 
Both have a "vision". The word "vision", once reserved for 
prophets, starred in every second sentence. (Bush could not 
know that in Israel, "vision" has long become a jocular 
appellation for highfaluting speeches, usually in combin-
ation with the word "Zionism".) 

The President and the Prime Minister have something else 
in common: not a word of what they said at the press 
conference had any connection with the truth. 

ONE OF the most moving dramas in the Bible tells about our 
old blind forefather, Isaac, who wanted to bless his eldest 
son, Esau, a reddish and hairy hunter. But the second son, 
the homebody (or rather tent-body) Jacob, exploited the 
absence of his brother and went to his father in order to 
steal the blessing. He wore Esau's clothes and covered his 
arms with hairy goat skins. The ruse nearly failed, when 
the father felt the arms of Jacob and his suspicion was 

That's when he uttered the famous words: "The voice is 
Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." 
(Genesis, 27: 22). 

Yet Jacob, the impostor, did receive the blessing and 
became the father of the nation which was named after 
him (he was also called Israel). It seems that Ehud 
Olmert is a true successor: there is no connection 
between his voice and his hands. 

Anyone who listens to him - not just at the press 
conference, but also on every other occasion - hears 
words of peace and reason: The Palestinians must have 
a state of their own. The "vision" must be realized 
while Bush is president, because Israel has never had 
and never will have a truer friend. The settlement 
outposts must be removed, as promised by us again and 
again. The settlements must be frozen. Etc. etc. 

That is the voice of Jacob. But the hands, well, they 
are the hands of Esau. 

BEFORE ANNAPOLIS, during Annapolis and after Annapolis, 
nothing at all was done to promote the Two-State Solution. 
The negotiations were about to begin - any moment now - 
a year ago, and now they are again about to begin - any 
moment now. Yes, the "core issues" - borders, Jerusalem, 
refugees - will be addressed. Sure. Any moment now. 

But in the meantime, the hands of Esau are working fever-
ishly. All over the occupied territories, the settlements 
are being enlarged. The existing outposts remain untouched, 
new ones spring up from time to time. Around them, a well 
choreographed dance has evolved, a kind of formal ballet 
executed by the settlers and the army. The settlers set 
up a new outpost, the army removes it, the settlers return 
and set it up again, the army dismantles, and so forth. 

In the meantime the outpost gets bigger and bigger. The 
government connects it to the electricity and water systems 
and builds a road. And the army, of course, protects it day 
and night. We cannot leave good Jews at the mercy of the 
evil Palestinian terrorists, can we? 

Bush knows all this and still continues to blabber that 
"the illegal outposts must be removed". And so it 
continues: the voice is Jacob's voice, the hands are the 
hands of Esau. 

BUT ONE cannot fool all of the people all of the time, to 
quote another American President who was slightly more 
intelligent than the present incumbent. 

And so, after Olmert and Bush repeated the mantra about 
removing the outposts and freezing the settlements, one 
of the journalists popped an innocent question: How does 
this fit together with the announcement about the building 
of a huge new housing project at Har Homa? 

If anyone thought that this would embarrass Olmert, he 
was sadly mistaken. Olmert just cannot be embarrassed. 
He simply answered that this promise does not apply to 
Jerusalem, nor to the "Jewish population centers" beyond 
the Green Line. 

"Jerusalem" - since the time of Levy Eshkol - is not only 
the Old City and the Holy Basin. It is the huge tract of 
land annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War, from the 
approaches to Bethlehem to the outskirts of Ramallah. This 
area includes the hill that was once forested and called 
Jebel Abu-Ghneim, now the site of the big and ugly Har 
Homa settlement. And the "population centers" are the big 
settlement blocs in the occupied Palestinian territories, 
which President Bush so generously presented to Ariel 

This means that almost all the extensive building 
activities that are now going on beyond the Green Line 
are not covered by the Israeli undertaking to freeze 
the settlements. And while Olmert publicly announced 
this, President Bush was standing at his side, smiling 
foolishly and painting on another layer of compliments. 

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The following day, Bush visited Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah 
and told the shocked Palestinians that the innumerable 
Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank, which turn the life 
of the Palestinians into hell, are necessary for the 
protection of Israel and must remain where they are - 
until after the establishment of the hoped-for democratic 
Palestinian state. 

Condoleezza Rice was quick to remind him in private that 
this was not very wise, since he was about to visit half 
a dozen Arab countries. So Bush hastened to call another 
press conference in Jerusalem, talking about the "core 
issues": there would be a "contiguous" Palestinian state, 
but the 1949 borders (the Green Line) would not be 
restored. He would not speak about Jerusalem.  Also, the 
refugee problem would be settled by an international fund 
- meaning that none at all would be allowed to return. 

Altogether, much less than Bill Clinton's 2000 
"parameters", and less than most Israelis are already 
prepared to accept. It amounts to 110% support for the 
official Israeli government line. 

After that, Bush had dinner with Israeli cabinet ministers. 
He cordially shook the hand of Minister Rafael Eitan, the 
former spymaster who controlled the Israeli spy in 
Washington, Jonathan Pollard, whom Bush refuses to pardon. 
(Eitan would be arrested the moment he set foot on American 
soil.) He spoke cordially with the ultra-rightist Minister 
Avigdor Liberman, urging him to support Olmert. Throughout 
the dinner, he talked and talked, until Condi sent him a 
discreet note suggesting that he shut up. Bush, in high 
spirits, read the note out loud. 

I HAVE mentioned more than once the British World War II 
poster which was pasted up on the walls in Palestine: "Is 
this trip really necessary?" 

That is again the question now: Is this trip of Bush's 
really necessary? 

The answer is: Of course. Necessary for Bush. Necessary 
for Olmert. Necessary for Abbas, too. 

For Bush, because he is a lame duck, in the last year of 
his term, and therefore almost paralyzed. In the United 
States he is rapidly becoming irrelevant. His touted Middle 
East tour has been drowned out by the primary elections 
mayhem, which produces a new drama almost every day. While 
Hillary wrestles with Obama and the glib Bill competes with 
an impressive black grandma, who cares where the worst 
president in American history is traipsing around? 

Olmert is well aware of the situation. When he declares that 
the last year of the term of his noble friend must be used, 
what he really means to say is: he cannot exert any 
pressure on us, he cannot even "nudge" us, as he promises. 
There is no need to remove even one single outpost for him. 
So let us squeeze the last drop of juice out of his 
presidency, before he is thrown onto the trash pile of 

But Olmert needs the presence of Bush at his side, because 
his position is not much more secure than Bush's. Bush is 
bankrupt in a big way, after starting one of the most 
pointless and unsuccessful wars in US history. That is 
true for Olmert in a small way. He is bankrupt too, and 
he also started a pointless, failed war. 

In two weeks time, the Winograd Commission will publish its 
final report on Lebanon War II, and everyone expects it to 
come down on Olmert like a 16 ton weight. He may survive, 
if only because there is now no credible substitute. But 
he needs all the help he can get - and what better help 
than the "Leader of the Free World" gazing at him with 
liquid eyes? 

It's the old story about the lame and the blind.

THIS WAS NOT Bush's last presidential visit to Israel. He 
has already promised to return on the 60th anniversary of 
the founding of the state, which falls this year (in 
accordance with the Hebrew calendar) on May 8. What else 
can a president do in his last months in office, except 
star in ceremonies with kings, presidents and prime 

Perhaps he had intended to finish with a big bang, a 
historic climax that would overshadow even his invasions 
of Afghanistan and Iraq, such as a grand attack on Iran. 
But it seems that the US intelligence community, in a 
patriotic act that makes up for some of its earlier sins, 
has prevented this by publishing its sensational report. 

True, this week something happened that put on a warning 
light. Some small Iranian boats were reported to have made 
a provocative gesture against the powerful American 
warships in the Strait of Hormuz. 

That takes us right back to 1964 and to what has become 
known as the "Gulf of Tonkin incident". President Lyndon 
Johnson announced that Vietnamese vessels had attacked 
American warships. That wss a lie, but it was enough for 
Congress to empower the president to widen the war that 
killed millions of people (and buried Johnson's career). 

But this time the red light went out quickly. The US 
Congress is not what it was, it seems that the Americans 
have no stomach for another war, the historical parallel 
was too obvious. Bush has been left without an option for 
war. He has been left with nothing. 

Apart from Olmert's flattery, of course.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer, ex-soldier and advocate
for Palestinian rights.

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